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The Importance of a Diverse Teaching Staff

There’s an interesting twist to data regarding increasing diversity in teaching. In 2016, the percentage of nonwhite teachers had grown to nearly 20%. In 1987, the share of nonwhite teachers was 12%. This is an encouraging trend, but when compared to student populations, teacher diversity is lagging behind. In the 2015 to 2016 academic year, for instance, 52% of all public elementary and secondary school students were nonwhite.

Ethnic Makeup of New Teachers

As the student population outpaces the teacher workforce in diversity, a look at younger teachers entering the workforce is not encouraging. The Brookings Institute reports that millennials are generally more diverse than earlier generations, but the share of white teachers among millennials is noticeably higher than the share of white teachers in previous generations. Yet, because teachers of color enter the profession through non-traditional routes such as alternative certification programs, teacher diversity among millennials may catch up over time.

The Gender Gap

Since the late 1800s, women have made up the majority of all public school teachers in the United States. According to The Atlantic, 67% of public school teachers were women during the 1980 to 1981 school year. By the 2015 to 2016 school year, that number had increased to 76%. These numbers get even more interesting when you look at gender distribution by grade level. In fact, nine out of 10 elementary school educators are women, but only six in 10 high school teachers are women. A similar fluctuation occurs at the leadership level. In this case, half of all elementary and middle school principals are women. At the high school level, women make up only one third of high school principals.

Teachers as Role Models

The Kids Count Data Center finds that males comprise 51% of the U.S. student population and females have represented 49%, a number that’s held steady since 2009. Combine that with a student population that is more than 50% nonwhite, and it’s clear that teacher populations are not representative of student populations.

Age, gender, race or ethnicity don’t effect teaching ability, but statistics reveal that students often do better academically and socially in representative classrooms. This is particularly true with boys and older students. As the New York Times reported: “Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender.” Ultimately, “students tend to be inspired by role models they can relate to.”

How Education Leaders Can Increase Diversity

The Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL) recently published an article about increasing diversity in the teacher workforce. They advised the implementation of HR policies and practices that promote the hiring and retention of a diverse teaching staff. REL additionally found that districts that are successful in recruiting teachers of color often use data-driven, targeted strategies to inform their outreach efforts. These districts also publish vacancy notices early in the process and hire early in the process. By offering competitive compensation and benefits, they are more effective at onboarding and retaining teachers of color.

In addition to pay hikes, attracting more male teachers and increasing diversity is also a matter of convincing potential hires that teaching is a worthwhile career. Developing partnerships with local universities to recruit teachers of color, while simultaneously creating diverse hiring committees, can help with recruitment.

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) points out that improving teacher diversity can be achieved by improving school leadership. The LPI recommends that principal certification programs conduct practicum experiences in schools with diverse student and staff populations. They go on to recommend investing in principal recruitment, preparation, induction and development. They also suggest developing partnerships to recruit talented teachers into administrator preparation.

Becoming an Education Leader

St. Thomas University offers an accelerated online master’s degree for education professionals who plan to become school administrators. Graduate students enrolled for the Master of Science in Educational Leadership program will learn about leadership in education, school law, historical foundations of education, curriculum and instruction for diverse student populations, school personnel management, and more.

Learn more about STU’s M.S. in Educational Leadership online.


The Atlantic: The U.S. Teaching Population Is Getting Bigger, and More Female

Brookings Institute: The Diversity Gap for Public School Teachers Is Actually Growing Across Generations

Kids Count Data Center: Child Population by Gender in the United States

Learning Policy Institute: Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color

New York Times: Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning?

Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL): Increasing Diversity in the Teacher Workforce: The Importance and Potential Impact of Authentic Change

Scholars Strategy Network: Why Teacher Diversity is Valuable for America’s Student — and What Should Be Done to Promote It

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